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CRIME DOES NOT PAY ARCHIVES VOL. 8 Review: Hard Lessons Uncensored

Well before the Comics Code Authority was established, comic book publishers in the 1940s were already partly in the business of censoring themselves. When the heroes at DC, Timely, and other publishers were not up against mad scientists or magical nemeses, the down to earth criminals they fought were a pale shade of the criminals in the real world. Not so with Crime Does Not Pay from Lev Gleason Publications. This title boasted “the widest range of appeal” with brutal stories of crime and punishment, often based on fact, with no blood or bullet holes stricken from the page. Dark Horse Comics collects 4 issues from 1947 of this enthralling title in Crime Does Not Pay Archives Volume 8.

The Stories

“All True Crime Stories,” reads the banner on the cover of every issue. Though a good number of the stories are easily verified as factual, some are not. “The Kill-Crazy Fleagle Brothers,” “Baby Face Nelson Vs. The U. S. A.,” and “Dr. Holmes the Master of Murder Castle” are among those that are definitely true. “Dutch Schultz’s Triggerman” features  a real life mob boss, but the story’s pathetic protagonist, Danny Iamascia, seems like a contrived caricature. “Washed in Blood” features a crook named Johnny Spanish. While there was a racketeer by that name in New York, he lived and died years earlier than this story.

Rather than accuse the original creators of going against their claim, we can probably assume that the names in some stories have been changed as is sometimes explicitly stated. Another possibility is that the facts behind the stories were simply not famous enough after their time to make it onto today’s fountain of knowledge, the internet. Though no writer is credited here, co-editor Charles Biro is said to be the series chief writer.

True or not, the stories are all excellent in portraying the horrors of crime and pulling no punches in illustrating the violence people are capable of in their pursuit of dishonest fortunes. The mission of the comic book is clear: show the criminals for what they are and show the consequences. Nothing about these people or their deeds is romanticized here. Criminals are clearly horrible people who victimize innocents and eventually pay for their crimes in the worst way. Most stories end with a crook being sentenced to the electric chair or gas chamber. Readers in Chicago will likely be delighted and frightened in equal measures at seeing that so many of the stories take place in their own city. (“Killer Jinx” gave a number of street locations that were near my apartment!)

If that all seems too heavy, the book does offer some lighter entertainment. The “Who Dunnit?” stories in each issue are contrived little fictions that challenge readers to piece together the clues and solve the mystery. Lighter still are the “On the Level” one-panel strips about odd, though supposedly true, crime stories; and the “This’ll Kill You!” cartoons laugh at the lighter side of law enforcement.

Of a lesser note are the two-page text stories that are rather thrown-together pulp-ish things. These were most likely the product of the law requiring periodicals to have at least two pages that were mostly text in order to qualify for second class postage.

The Art

Co-editor Charles Biro illustrates all four covers here.  Any readers who can get past these violent depictions of criminal acts (twice, people are gunned down graphically right on the cover) should not be shocked at the contents behind them. A number of different artists contribute to the stories, with some tales uncredited. Two names stand out among the illustrators. George Tuska and Fred Guardineer were well established comic artists before Crime Does Not Pay and both continued to make their names known in the field afterward.

The art in all of the serious crime tales all nods toward the realistic though simplified. Sometimes facial expressions or shadows are exaggerated for effect, but (other than the cartoon stories) this is kept to a minimum. The big exception is in the depiction of Mr. Crime, the ghostly narrator of some of the tales who eggs on the villainous protagonists. With his pointy ears, hooked nose, and enormous chin, Mr. Crime lurks about the crooks and sometimes looms over a whole panel in true cartoon bad guy fashion.

This is not to say that the illustrators were above being at all “artsy.” Fred Guardineer’s splash page for “Pretty Boy Floyd the Two-Faced Terror,” depicts the titular hood in a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fashion. Another powerful image is George Tuska’s splash page for “Baby Face Nelson Vs. the U. S. A.” showing a giant Uncle Sam flanked by police and detectives leveling a machine gun at the mobster. How is that for symbolism!

Other Content

Before we get to the stories, we start with a personal message from the original publisher, Lev Gleason, where he makes clear the intent of these comics. Gleason explicitly states what he thinks of criminals, how they should be portrayed, and what should happen to them. Then we come to crime fiction writer Joel Rose’s forward for the collection. Rose gets personal in relating his affection for the series and relates the life story of another crime writer who lived fast and died young. In keeping with the spirit of the book, he does romanticize his friend’s story nor make his life seem at all attractive.

The “Crime Quiz” features are present, purportedly, to better acquaint readers with facts and terminology of the world of crime detection.

Completing the reading experience, and giving a glimpse into the world of comic fandom in 1947, are the vintage ads and letter columns. The ads are sometimes hilarious with a diverse array of products like “The Amazing New Abdominal Supporter” for men, a Daredevil boomerang, and the invaluable book entitled How to Get Along With Girls. The letters come from such fans as convicted felons, parents, and school teachers who praise the comic book as a wonderful deterrent to juvenile delinquency.

Overall

Crime Does Not Pay Volume 8 from Dark Horse contains some of the most graphically depicted crime stories you will likely find in Golden Age comics. These tales do not hold back in their portrayals of crime nor in their convictions about it. Mobsters here are not misunderstood rebels. They are horrible parasites and are shown as such. The title of the series states the message clearly enough, Crime Does Not Pay.

4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cover image source: Dark Horse Comics

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Jean-Pierre Vidrine hails from the small town of Ville Platte, Louisiana. He started collecting and learning about comic books at the age of 9. He got his Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Louisiana State University. He now lives in Chicago with his wife and cat.

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Categories: Comic Reviews

Author:Jean-Pierre Vidrine

Jean-Pierre Vidrine is a Chicago transplant whose interests include comic books, nostalgia, tattoos, drag, just plain being allowed to be himself. He does his best to be a thoughtful writer.

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